An interview with Tom Felber, jury chairmen of the Spiel des Jahres was posted over on the Toy and Game Innovation Conference website.
The Spiel des Jahres was created in 1978 to promote quality games. Nomination and award criteria are based on game idea (originality, playability, play value), rules design (structure, clarity, understandability), game materials (features, workmanship), and layout and presentation (box, game board, rules).
Here’s just a small excerpt:
WHEN YOU GO BACK TO 2001 AND CARCASSONE BEING SELECTED AS SDJ WINNER, UP TO 2013 AND HANABI, HOW HAVE THE SDJ NOMINEES CHANGED?
The nominees change from year to year in all directions. There is no pattern. It always depends on what is available on the market in the specific year. There are strong years and weak years. Games, which even didn’t get a nomination in one year, would have been easily elected as “Spiel des Jahres“ if they were published in an other year. Of course, the election of “Hanabi“ was a big milestone because of the size of the box. This wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago. That’s the most obvious change, that small games can be elected nowadays.